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6 crap game design flaws that really should be extinct by now (but that we accept anyway)

Video games, when you think about it, are still pretty crap. Oh yes, we have visually stunning worlds realised down to the last tiny, billion-polygon detail. Oh yes, we have epic sweeping narratives that could make a mountain cry until it turned to mud. But games still cling onto a load of tired old crap that really is unjustifiable in the modern age. And they cling onto it because we as gamers keep accepting it. We shouldn't.

Pointless old design decisions, decades past their relevence sweet-spot. Sloppy glitches in basic, core gameplay elements that really should be second-nature to create by now. Cheap, badly-executed corner-cutting that we allow to slide again and again, just because we've already seen it so many times before. Well sharpen up, people. The only way this crap is going to change if we take an objective look and call it out for the unacceptable, out-dated balls it is. So I'm starting with these six.


The lives system

Age-old video game cliche it may be, but the concept of having a finite number of lives, whose depletion inevitably leads to the dread bastard visage of the “game over” screen, is not a true element of game design. It is a trope of basic capitalism, pure and simple. People like doing enjoyable things. And if those things are really enjoyable, they’ll pay to do them. If they’re really, really enjoyable, they’ll pay multiple times to do them again and again and again. Casinos have this knowledge nailed. Drug dealers? Absolutely all over that shit.

Back in the early days of arcades, game manufacturers worked it out too. Thus, finite attempts at a game, expandable with money, became the norm. Now though, the system serves no purpose. We’ve already spent the equivalent of 40-50 arcade credits on any game we're playing at home. Said game is probably a massive, sweeping narrative experience. Continues, thanks to hard drives, rightly, are infinite. But some games still insist on squeezing a lives quota in there too. The upshot of this extra design complexity? Bugger all, except that it causes you an extra delay in getting back into the game every fifth to tenth death. It is pointless. It has no point.


Crap 3D cameras

Super Mario 64 was how long ago?  So why are we still treating the ability to see what’s going on in a 3D game as a luxurious treat? It’s not a truffle-oil massage from the sexy young queen of some exotic kingdom of opulence and excess. It’s not a fragrant cocktail blended with unicorn tears, Ambrosia and water from the fountain of eternal youth. It’s basic bloody game design and we need it bloody well sorted out right bloody now.

Bloody!


Uncooperative Co-op AI

Persistent NPC comrades, particularly in action games, can be great. They’re great at adding character-driven narrative to an otherwise purely action-driven scenario. They’re great at emphasising moments of tension and catharsis. They’re great at adding plausibility to games’ traditional one-man-army plots. You know what else they’re great at? Crapping up all your progress by having the tactical logistical awareness of a deaf mole trying to re-stage Operation Barbarossa.

Squad back-up is supposed to be there to back you up. All to often though, it’s simply there to train you in baby-sitting. If it isn’t forcing you to restart by getting one or more of you killed, it’s forcing you to restart by forcing you to rescue it from getting killed and then getting you killed in the process.

Here’s a crazy idea. How about if, rather than being a tertiary hindrance, co-op AI just plain isn’t there if you’re playing on your own? I know the idea is a radically new one, having only been around since Contra, but it could just work. If I'm playing on my own, it's because I want to play on my own. I don't need a crap simulation of an idiot friend who I don't even get the satisfaction of shouting at when he screws up. Or if said NPCs are vital to narrative, how about making them invincible when under the command of the CPU? Alyx from Half-Life 2 manages that, so why can’t a fully-trained space marine?

Or alternatively, you know, maybe you could just test the code a lot and make sure that it actually works...?

67 comments

  • Pay - March 2, 2011 8:58 p.m.

    how about spawning enemies. COD spawns hundreds of soldiers until you pass an invisible line. I prefer a set number of targets or spawn them from belivable places like barracks, APC's airdrops ..... just keep the number realistic. I agree with the invisible walls problem if the walls are lame like small obstacles or windows. How about elivator that just let you go to 1 floor or are just for show and don't work. Good tricks: Fallout and stalker use radiation to block you. farcry 2 had a big dessert serrounding the level. A lot of games happen on ilands. GTA IV and Saints row 2. Unclear signposting is bad, but we don't need a blip on the compass to point the way in every quest / mission.
  • l_eden_l - February 27, 2011 7:34 a.m.

    Some of these (3D cameras, ally AI) are justified in that they are really, really, REALLY hard to nail down properly. ...But then you have cases of devolopers not even trying, so yeah.
  • Seabread - February 26, 2011 12:38 p.m.

    Not so much a gameplay design flaw as it is a huge fucking error on developers parts but if it's commonplace to be using wireless controllers these days why do games not automatically pause if the batteries run dry? looking at you AC:Brotherhood and MassEffect2. It defies belief really.
  • philipshaw - February 25, 2011 1:49 p.m.

    Great feature and I agree with most of this list. I would add getting rid of boss battles where they are not needed,just look at Uncharted 2
  • NightCrawler_358 - February 25, 2011 12:45 p.m.

    Final Fantasy is bad for having stupidly hard boss fights after long cut scenes. At least in XIII you can skip them now, but in X, that was really frustrating. Great entries.
  • gilgamesh310 - February 25, 2011 12:10 p.m.

    Un cooperative ai is probably the biggest issue. I don't think I have ever seen a game that gets it consistently right. In Resistance: Fall of Man I would take out my rocket launcher to shoot a stalker or some big creature but what would happen is one of my comlpetely idiotic companions would walk in the way of the rocket as it's fired and I would be killed by the close range blast. Absolutely fucking infuriating! I would also include boss battles to the list. They are an outdated contrivance that don't really have a place in most modern games. Im glad Dead Space 2 cut down on them contrary to what a lot of people think.
  • gilgamesh310 - February 25, 2011 12:04 p.m.

    Yeah, a good article Dave. The unclear signposting can be very annoying all right. In Uncharted 2 it was a big issue for me at times.And crap restart points. I lost count of the amount of times I died at that refinery section in Gears of War 1. While there wasn't actually a cutscene before it there was a lot of unskippable talk that I had to listen every fucking time I died.
  • jmcgrotty - February 25, 2011 9:12 a.m.

    I agree with most of these, except the limited number of lives one. The beauty in some games (emphasis on SOME) having a set number of lives to start with (and the possibility to earn more) adds a secondary challenge to the game, since you need to improve enough to get farther each time. You can't just be a piece of crap player trying every combination over and over and over (you get the point) from a predetermined spawn point after you die. You want to beat a game? You better damn well earn it, rather than just get lucky on your 430th attempt.
  • quincytheodore - February 25, 2011 5:50 a.m.

    Currently playing Vanquish, do you have any idea how many times I dash, flip, go into bullet tim.. I mean AR mode, and welcomed by the sight of my AI allies' butts and Sam shouts, "Get out of the way!" which virtually rendering tiny bits of my gauge and well placed cinematic jump into useless acrobatic version of Angelina Jolie knee slide from Wanted? And see Silent Hill for "Invisible Walls" I know not every game can incorporate endless abyss, but for every soul that said, "I wanna go there." Silent Hill has the ultimate comeback, "U mad? There's nothing there. Go back 3 blocks, turn left!" *another endless abyss... troll successful* After Dead Space 2, I instinctively press right analog stick for objective Marker (pun intended) on any game. I think Checkpoints and Lives can work well together. For example, you are sent into checkpoints, make sure they are plenty and generous, for each life you deplete. But if you run out of lives, you are sent further back, in beginning of chapter. Or at least just apply it in the Hard difficulty, so veterans can have more challenge.
  • Seabread - February 25, 2011 3:44 a.m.

    Thank God Bowie's cod-piece is in shadow
  • FauxFurry - February 25, 2011 2:47 a.m.

    Unclear sign posting might not be so bad if, after the player has wandered around long enough, a David Bowie song starts playing in the background. Splattering mime minds all over invisible walls sounds like a fine use of that design element, so long as the invisible wall 'vanish' after the deed is done. The player character should just come back at some random part of the game world with another stamp in their passport and with random souvenirs (including grievous injuries). If extra lives factor into the story somewhat as they did in Conker's Bad Fur Day, they'd be partially justifiable (possibly explaing why the protagonist is so fearless) but still completely unecessary from a design perspective. It would still be interesting to see game developers try to come up with cockamamie excuses for all of these things in game. (Stupid A.I. partners=defective clones/robots, maybe?) I see that a seventh item is a list-design element deemed too archiac for GamesRadar to implement for the purpose of this article. Well, filler is a design flaw worth cutting so good for you lot.
  • Larinah - February 25, 2011 12:24 a.m.

    Respawning right before a cutscene makes me think of the Castlevania games... Especially on Order of Ecclesia with the Barlow fight. Massive amounts of button presses every time... Just to die a terrible death if it was on hard mode and you weren't on top of everything.
  • wedgie - February 24, 2011 11:02 p.m.

    I remember at the start of this generation you guys had an article about things that you should not see anymore in games. I didn't look up the article, but regarding invisible walls it was something along the lines of "If there is an invisible wall in a game, it automatically will get a full point deduction." Loved that. True then, true now.
  • Billiam101 - February 24, 2011 9:27 p.m.

    @yonderTheGreat Bethesda has invisible walls. In Oblivion when you go to the edge of the map you would be told to turn back. It was basically a wall of air blocking your way while a deer runs through it (that happened to me many times).
  • Sinosaur - February 24, 2011 9:13 p.m.

    You know what I hate? Games where they shove you in with a group of useless AI partners only for it to turn out they aren't even placeholders for other players in co-op. So even if you get all your buddies together to kick butt, you've still got a bunch of morons running around getting themselves murdered (Halo... although those usually don't matter) or they don't even give you co-op (Bad Company 2. Seriously, why didn't a game like that have co-op?)
  • Voodoowolfe - February 24, 2011 9:03 p.m.

    I also got the Labyrinth joke also. Feeling older by the min. Invisible walls and bad signposting are the worst. Poor AI? I just run off and leave em. But if they have to get to Point B with you to trigger the next area, devs listen up, they had better be able to navigate that S**T! I mean going from point A to B? If your AI can't do that then screw em. I can kill whole world's worth of enemies. But if the AI slows me down or gets in my way...I reserve the right to kill them. Nuff said
  • Fraught - February 24, 2011 7:38 p.m.

    Well, what can I say? I agree with every single one of these, though the invisible walls thing probably bothers me the least.
  • johnnywutang - February 24, 2011 7:24 p.m.

    Bravo on this article. Not being able to control the camera is one of my BIGGEST peeves. You forgot to mention "Unskippable Cut Scenes," though you alluded to it with the "Crap Restart Points." Speaking of, when they COMBINE the two?!... *brain synapses explode*
  • bron1417 - February 24, 2011 6:51 p.m.

    i think of Mass Effect and Halo when i think of crappy AI partners. hopefully that gets worked on for ME3.
  • BurntToShreds - February 24, 2011 6:50 p.m.

    One of my peeves with Morrowind was that I had not freaking idea where to go. Sure the game comes with a map and you get a questlog, but you have no freaking clue where the quest NPCs are. I'm so glad they gave you that compass in Oblivion. Now I just hope to God that Bethesda can fine-tune that NPC AI for Skyrim so you can't exploit stuff.

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